I’m having a self-imposed “quiet week” this week to rest up a bit (I’ve been having too much fun catching up with my friends in Tokyo) but I still managed to walk to a few different neighborhoods. So much has changed since I was last here that I’m still constantly surprised by the things I’m seeing… then again, I just felt my second earthquake in 4 days, so in that way Japan is as Japan always was.
I’m having a great time re-discovering and exploring all the places I used to go (Shibuya, Roppongi, Ebisu, Hiroo, Omotesanto, etc), but I’ve been curious about some of the places that didn’t exist or weren’t developed 15 years ago. Yesterday I walked over to Daikanyama and today I went to another neighborhood I’d never heard of before. I was told by several friends to check out a part of town called Shin-Ōkubo, just north of Shinjuku. They told me I’d be shocked by what I would find there because it won’t feel like I’m in Japan. What exactly is in Shin-Ōkubo? Koreans!
I wasn’t more than 10 minutes away from the Shinjuku station before I began to see signs in Korean.
It was about 14:30 when I got there and I was starving so I went to look for a place to eat. I ended up at a restaurant called “Ondoru” or Ondol. Even though I was at a Korean restaurant there wasn’t a single Korean letter written on the menu. It was all in Japanese (no English either)- luckily there were photos to help me. I glanced at the menu (there were a few dishes with cheese in it?!) but ordered my go-to Korean dish, dolsotbibimbap (돌솥 비빔밥). I noticed an extra menu item that said “ランチビール” (lunch beer) for ¥300 so I ordered that, too (yes, I know it’s funny that I could read that!)
I love eating out at lunch time in Japan. You always get the best deals whether you’re at a casual place or at an exclusive restaurant. This place was no exception. For about $11 (¥1,080) I got all this just for me. And in Japan, there is no tipping!
I didn’t start eating and appreciating Korean food until I was in my late twenties. While I like it more than I did before, I don’t cook Korean food nor do I crave it. I don’t think a true connoisseur of Korean food would consider what I ate today that amazing but it did the trick for me. What I do know though, was that the customers were all women. I guess the cute-sy decor had a lot to do with it? Or so I thought.
Once I started to really walk around the neighborhood I realized that 99% of the people shopping and eating in Koreatown were women. There were basically three types of stores here: 1) restaurant or some kind of eatery, 2) cosmetics store, 3) shops selling all things K-pop.
There were hair accessory stores and cake shops, as well as nail and hair salons- no wonder the streets were full of women! I also saw that Korean snack places seemed very popular. To get these stuffed pancakes you first have to buy a ticket from a vending machine- you can choose cheese, honey, anko (red bean), even kimchi or japchae as your filling. There were 3 or 4 ジョンノホットク jonno hottoku (Jongro Hotteok) places in the neighborhood and they were all busy. Personally, I’ve only had honey & ground peanut hotteoks before so I’m not sure what the others would taste like… I was too full from lunch to try one today.
This place was selling rice cake doughnuts, Korean “tornado potato” (served on a stick- see photos here), and ice cream.
I had no interest in cosmetics, sweets, or Korean pop stars so I looked for…. a grocery store, of course. I found three. They all carried a lot of noodles (ramen or otherwise), tea, instant coffee, and various Korean condiments. Most of them also had prepared Korean foods to sample and takeaway- pickles, kimchi, soups, stews, rice cakes, etc.
I thought this was a brilliant idea- large lockers to put away your shopping bags for a few hours so that you can go forth and freely shop some more. These only cost ¥100 (~$1USD) for 12 hours.
I don’t know that I’m this Koreatown’s target demographic but I had a lot of fun poking around the neighborhood this afternoon.
新大久保 (Shin-Ōkubo): direct access via Shin-Ōkubo or Ōkubo stations